Political scientist Yascha Mounk is downcast. Writing in The Atlantic, he says he has been holding out hope that this or that thing would be the miracle we needed to defeat the pandemic, but now he’s saying we need to resign ourselves to the sad fact that the path out of this Covid-19 crisis is going to be long and hard. Excerpts:
There was real reason to indulge in each of these hopes. But in the past several days, a series of developments have undermined the factual basis for all of them. So I am, finally, starting to reconcile myself to a darker reality: The miracle of deliverance is not in sight.
I’ve been saying in this space for some time — long before the pandemic — that the United States is in a pre-totalitarian state, according to the measures laid out by Hannah Arendt in The Origins of Totalitarianism. Widespread loneliness, social atomization, loss of faith in institutions, a mania for ideology — these and other factors were present and worsening before the pandemic struck. What kept us together in spite of them was our relative wealth. Now, because of the coronavirus, we are staring into the face of mass impoverishment — and nobody, except for the superrich, is safe from it. Keep in mind too that the failure of the Russian imperial government to respond effectively to the 1891-92 famine there profoundly undermined confidence in the regime, and helped set the stage for the later revolution.
As I finish the revision of my forthcoming book about the rise of soft totalitarianism, what concerns me most is the long-term effect of virus-caused poverty and instability will prepare us to accept degrees of surveillance and control that we would not have tolerated before — this, as the cost of getting back to normal. I’m not saying that evil actors in the state will hold us hostage to that. I’m saying that it might genuinely be the only way to restore the country to something resembling normal — and that people will be so exhausted psychologically and battered economically to say no to it. China’s present could easily be our future.
Once the system is in place, it’s not going to go away. This is my fear.